Ex-New Jersey prosecutor takes stand at US Senator Menendez’s corruption trial

By Thomson Reuters Jun 6, 2024 | 12:12 PM

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New Jersey’s former attorney general took the stand on Thursday at U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption trial, where he is expected to testify about the once-powerful lawmaker’s attempts to disrupt local criminal prosecutions in exchange for bribes.

Prosecutors have said Menendez sought in 2019 to have Gurbir Grewal, the state’s top prosecutor from 2018 through 2021, intervene in cases involving two associates of insurance and trucking businessman Jose Uribe.

In exchange, Uribe allegedly helped Menendez and his wife Nadine Menendez buy a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible with money disguised as a loan.

Grewal, now head of enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, considered Menendez’s pressure inappropriate and took no action, prosecutors said. Uribe pleaded guilty this year to fraud and bribery charges and is expected to testify against Menendez.

Menendez, 70, a three-term Democratic senator, has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction.

Prosecutors have also said Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes including cash, mortgage payments and gold bars in exchange for political favors and aiding the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

The senator’s lawyers have blamed his wife for concealing her financial dealings from him.

Nadine Menendez has pleaded not guilty and her trial was postponed to July because she is being treated for breast cancer. Bob Menendez’s trial could last through June.

Jurors on Wednesday saw logs reflecting a seven-minute phone call from the senator to Grewal on Jan 29, 2019, and text messages two months later from Nadine Menendez asking for her then-future husband’s input on color schemes of two Mercedes convertibles.

“Like them both whatever you prefer,” Bob Menendez texted Nadine on March 30, 2019.

Grewal’s SEC office frequently collaborates on financial crime cases with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting Menendez.

Menendez has resisted calls from former Democratic allies to resign, but stepped down as chair of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee after he was charged in September.

The corruption trial is his second. A 2017 trial in New Jersey ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked.

Menendez is seeking re-election as an independent, but faces an uphill battle because he is unpopular with voters.

U.S. Representative Andy Kim on Tuesday won New Jersey’s Democratic primary for Menendez’s seat in the Nov. 5 election.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)